The climbing gets serious — and dirty — today in the highly anticipated second stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge.
The 128 cyclists in the fourth annual stage race across Colorado will depart from Aspen at 11 a.m. today on an entirely new route for the USA Pro Challenge.
“Stage 2 ... is unique this year with Kebler Pass,” said race director Jim Burrell of Medalist Sports. “There will be 40 kilometers of dirt ... up and down.”
The addition of the dirt and gravel section of the rambling Kebler Pass is a new twist to the USA Pro Challenge, which resorted to dirt previously on Cottonwood Pass.
Also new this year will be today’s tour through Basalt and Carbondale — both new communities on the itinerary.
The cyclists will leave Aspen at 11 a.m. and head out of town to McLain Flats, where they will ride all the way to Lower River Road and Old Snowmass.
Then, they hit Highway 82 for the run to Basalt and then to Catherine’s Store Road for the trip into Carbondale.
Highway 133 to Redstone is next before the cyclists climb McClure Pass (8,763 feet).
The dirt/gravel jewel of Kebler Pass awaits with a climb to 9,980 feet and the descent into Crested Butte.
The stage will end with another brutal, but short, climb up to Mount Crested Butte (9,300 feet).
“Cottonwood Pass ... that was phenomenal,” said Garmin-Sharp team leader Tommy Danielson of Boulder. He won the last dirt stage of the USA Pro Challenge two years ago when he climbed Cottonwood Pass and then executed a solo breakaway on Independence Pass to capture a stage victory in downtown Aspen.
“That will make the Crested Butte stage even more decisive,” said Danielson, one of the overall favorites this year along with defending champion Tejay van Garderen, who now lives in Aspen.
Danielson said the dirt and gravel surface makes the climbing tougher with more “rolling resistance.”
The descents on dirt are tricky and could be even more so if today’s afternoon showers materialize as forecast.
Today’s stage will be 105 miles — the longest of the 550-mile tour.
Another mountain stage Wednesday will help shake out the general classification standings in the 2014 USA Pro Challenge.
That day will take the cyclists from Gunnison to Salida up and over Monarch Pass.
The cyclists will turn around at Salida and climb back up Monarch Pass to a finish at the Monarch Ski Area.
The day will cover 96 miles with a pair of categorized climbs. Monarch Pass’s summit is at 11,312 feet.
On Thursday, the cyclists will race in stage 4 — the Colorado Springs/Garden of the Gods Circuit Race. The race will cover 70 miles with four laps on a 16-mile circuit that starts at the Broadmoor and included downtown Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods Park.
On Friday, the USA Pro Challenge will go from Woodland Park to Breckenridge over Hoosier Pass. Mileage is 104 miles with two categorized climbs including Hoosier and Boreas.
The penultimate stage of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge will be the Vail Individual Time Trial on Friday.
The 10-mile course goes up Vail Pass.
The USA Pro Challenge will close with the 78-mile Bolder-Denver finishing stage, including a trip to Golden and climb up Lookout Mountain.
The finish is in downtown Denver.